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Archive for Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Legislative Democrats tell House speaker to resign from lawsuit against state

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Ward (left) of Wichita and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence confer prior to sending a letter to House Speaker Mike O'Neal. The letter said O'Neal should step down from a lawsuit against the state. O'Neal has denied any wrongdoing.

House Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Ward (left) of Wichita and House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence confer prior to sending a letter to House Speaker Mike O'Neal. The letter said O'Neal should step down from a lawsuit against the state. O'Neal has denied any wrongdoing.

February 24, 2010, 10:28 a.m. Updated February 24, 2010, 11:14 p.m.

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Democratic letter to Speaker O'Neal ( .PDF )

— House Democratic leaders on Wednesday told House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, they will “take formal action” against him unless he steps aside from a lawsuit against the state.

O’Neal is lead attorney in a lawsuit representing businesses, trade groups and insurance funds. The suit alleges the Legislature violated the law last year by voting to take unused funds in various accounts set aside for specific regulatory purposes and diverting them to help balance the overall state budget.

O’Neal’s clients paid $5 million in fees into those accounts. The lawsuit seeks to force the state to repay those funds and not sweep those funds in the future.

Democrats say it is a conflict of interest for O’Neal to serve as the top official in the House and then sue the Legislature.

“It would be a disservice to the leadership position you hold, the legislative body you lead, and the constituents you represent to continue taking part in this suit,” the Democrats said in a letter to O’Neal’s office.

O’Neal was out of town, but he has denied any wrongdoing since the lawsuit came to light last month. O’Neal has said he is doing what many attorneys in the Legislature do; that is, representing clients involved in litigation that relates to state laws. He has called the attacks partisan.

O’Neal voted against the fund sweeps last year and entered a formal protest against the action. But Democrats said O’Neal’s formal protest raised suspicions “that you took this action only to satisfy a particular statute that would enable you to provide legal representation in the case.”

The letter was signed by House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, Assistant Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, Whip Eber Phelps of Hays, Caucus Chair Barbara Ballard of Lawrence, Agenda Chair Marti Crow of Leavenworth and Policy Chair Cindy Neighbor of Shawnee.

It was hand-delivered by Davis’ chief of staff, former Lawrence school board president Craig Grant, to Brent Haden, who is O’Neal’s chief of staff.

Comments

leedavid 4 years, 9 months ago

So if a person gets a elected they give up the right to use courts as a remedy? I don't think so. Employees can sue employers. Move on democrats, get to working on the economy....we are closing schools, losing homes and jobs out here.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 9 months ago

It is a conflict of interest. Why not call it what is? I imagine O"Neal was chosen as the attorney for his political clout. O'Neal was not born yesterday.

The republican very large majority should have spent more time creating new tax dollars for Kansas instead of cleaning out the cookie jar every year for the past 12-15 years.

Tax dollars are not evil in and of themselves. It may be the politicians who are evil spenders that do not how to manage state money.

leedavid 4 years, 9 months ago

Merrill is it a conflict of interest when employees sue employers?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 9 months ago

"So if a person gets a elected they give up the right to use courts as a remedy?"

If they're suing the legislature of which they are one of the top leaders, yes.

anon72 4 years, 9 months ago

@ leedavid

No, it is not a conflict of interest when employees sue employers. It is a conflict of interest when the second most powerful man in state government sues the state over a specific appropriation in the state budget on behalf of powerful special interest groups who have business before the legislature constantly. It would be different if he were suing the state on behalf of an individual over a Kansas law.

PS- You are absolutely right. We are closing schools and losing homes and jobs. Even if there were not conflicts of interest within the lawsuit, is this really an appropriate time to sue the state over the budget? And furthermore, how disingenuous is it of Mike O'Neal to criticize lawsuits against the state publicly on January 11th and then file a lawsuit against the state on January 21st?

leedavid 4 years, 9 months ago

The courts will rule on the case not the legislature. O'Neal is not a decision maker over the courts, so I don't see how he has a conflict of interest.

matchbox81 4 years, 9 months ago

leedavid, the courts will rule on the cse, but O'Neal's position in the government would allow him to influence the case in a capacity other than as a lawyer.

BigAl 4 years, 9 months ago

If this were a democrat, the republicans would be screaming from the roof tops. Tom would be blaming Obama. FOX News would be hammering this every day.

anon72 is 100% correct.

igby 4 years, 9 months ago

http://www2.ljworld.com/users/leedavid/

The laws very clear on this statue and it should not require a lot of lawyer-ing or Judging to decide that the legislature did not follow the law.

Legislators are voters for the people and the house speaker is it's host and whip. Why was this money dump into the general fund anyway, did they not vote on it? They don't need a court they need to correct their error themselves.

Bring the errors to vote!

igby 4 years, 9 months ago

Sorry about the link error! Opp's!

leedavid 4 years, 9 months ago

Matchbox, how so? I am unaware of a judge that can not rule on a case without regard to who and how much is involved.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

This is just another example of the Dems putting politics ahead of the public good. The Dems don't have any ideas on how to fix the real problems in Kansas so they play politics. The Dems are trying to either force O'Neal out of a job, or force him out of office. O'Neal can represent someone who sues the state, because he does not represent the state, he represents the people. For those who suggest a legislator cannot represent a client who sues the state is in effect saying no lawyer can be in the legislator.

Here is Law Professor Mike Hoeflich's take: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/feb/10/speaker-within-ethical-lines/#c1142016

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

edjayhawk...

First, I didn't say the Dems could fix the problems, I said they don't have any ideas on how to fix them.

Second, are you suggesting that the only job of the minority party is to play politics? If so, do you support the Republicans in Congress in that role?

kugrad 4 years, 9 months ago

Satirical, your logic is wrong. You have concluded this is partisan, but members of O'Neals' own party have pushed for him to recuse himself. No one has suggested that one cannot represent a client who sues the state while being a legislator. That is a misread of the facts and of the reasoning of those who feel O'Neal should drop off this case. The distinction is this: O'Neal is representing firms who have business before the House - firms that will be affected directly by decisions made by the House (not just in this lawsuit, but other business) and O'Neal, as speaker of the house, will have at the very least the appearance of wrongdoing. He WILL have a conflict of interest, there is no way around that, and it is quite reasonable to suggest he can't serve two masters. You should find out more about the particulars before you dismiss this as partisan. That is simply an easy way to dismiss and excuse the poor judgment of O'Neal.

ivalueamerica 4 years, 9 months ago

Why does leedavid think a valid comparison is a corporate employee lawsuit.

The Speaker is an elected official suing the very body he is elected to, in essence, suing himself because he is also the defendant.

If you can not imagine how that is not a conflict of interest, I wonder about any thoughts you have.

BigAl 4 years, 9 months ago

ivalueamerica, I totally agree. This is so blatantly clear it is baffling how anyone can defend O'Neal.
Like I stated earlier, if it were a democrat, the people defending O'Neal now would be calling for the resignation of the democrat.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

kugrad... “The distinction is this: O'Neal is representing firms who have business before the House - firms that will be affected directly by decisions made by the House (not just in this lawsuit, but other business) and O'Neal, as speaker of the house, will have at the very least the appearance of wrongdoing.” - kugrad

What you suggest is that legislators who are lawyers cannot represent clients who might have a conflict of interest on past legislation (by definition not a conflict of interest); or can’t represent a client which may have an interest on future legislation. Or in other words you are saying lawyers can’t also be legislators in Kansas since many of their clients might have an interest in legislation.

“The fact is that O’Neal’s clients are challenging legislation that is already law; it is not currently before the Legislature. Thus, O’Neal should not have to vote on the legislation. If O’Neal finds that a conflict arises in the future, he can simply recuse himself from any debate or vote, if he feels that is appropriate. I think that it would be quite unfair to assume that he will act inappropriately in such a situation. I see no reason to believe that he would do so.

The broad problem for attacking Speaker O’Neal for his representation of the plaintiffs in this case is that it would set a dangerous precedent for any lawyers who sit in the Kansas Legislature both currently and in the future.” – Mike Hoeflich

Furthermore, the Republicans who want him to recuse himself are likely asking him to do this not because there is a genuine conflict of interest, but because the Dems are exploiting this issues politically (even when there Is no wrongdoing) and they think it is better for the party to get past this issue.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Satirical,

Isn't it obvious that as an employee of those firms, O'Neal will make money from this lawsuit.

Therefore, he is tied to them in a financial way, and when their issues come before the legislature, he may very well be swayed by that tie.

I understand that money is thrown around in politics all the time, but this seems blatantly wrong, regardless of party affiliation.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

ivalueamerica and BigAl...

First, being a member of a group doesn't necessarily mean one is a representative of that group.

Second, O'Neal isn't suing, his client is suing. So he isn't suing anyone.

"I teach legal ethics and I’m very sensitive to charges of conflict of interests. Under the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct a lawyer cannot represent two clients with conflicting interests. But that’s not the case here. O’Neal is speaker of the Kansas House, but he does not represent the House or the Legislature and, so far as I know, never has." - Mike Hoeflich

So to recap...O'Neal isn't suing, and his client isn't suing suing him (he is not the defendant) since he does not represent the House or the Legislature, he is simply a member.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

Jafs… “Therefore, he is tied to them in a financial way, and when their issues come before the legislature, he may very well be swayed by that tie.”

So again, what you and many others are saying is that a legislator cannot represent or receive any remuneration from a business or individual who may in the future have an issue which comes before the legislator. In other words, you are saying all legislators must be unemployed because someone who has financial ties and/or receives a paycheck from a company can’t also be a legislator because of a possible conflict of interest. So no legislator can have a job, or have any investments or retirement because of this possible future conflict?

While this in some states this may work, in Kansas the legislator is only paid for 3 months of work, and it is not enough to support themselves. Therefore they have other jobs, which I think is a good thing because it puts them out in the real world.

Additionally if a legislator with financial ties to a company with issues which come before the legislature, such as they are an employee of that company, or was a contractor, or attorney for this company, they can simply recuse themselves. Easy solution, even if there were a conflict.

imastinker 4 years, 9 months ago

Legislators are not required to vote on a matter. Voting on such a matter would be a clear conflict of interest, but being involved in the lawsuit while declining to vote would not, IMHO.

I believe that the state law supports this opinion, at least on the municipal level.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

defender... "This is just another example of a partisan idiot."

Is it already time to engage in childish name calling unsupported by actual arguments? I thought we were suppose to refrain from acting like children until noon everyday.

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Satirical,

Is O'Neal going to recuse himself from all future votes that involve his clients?

Also, the problem of money and the private/public sectors is broad and deep. The only way to fix it, imho, is to remove extra sources of money from public servants. I suppose, in Kansas, that would mean paying them enough so that they don't need other jobs.

The only way we can ever approach the ideal of legislators who legislate for the common good is to have them receive public money, period.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

jafs... "Is O'Neal going to recuse himself from all future votes that involve his clients?" - jafs

I think it would be wrong for us to assume otherwise, just like it would be wrong for us to assume that a Democrat legislator who is employed wouldn't do the same.

"The only way to fix it, imho, is to remove extra sources of money from public servants. I suppose, in Kansas, that would mean paying them enough so that they don't need other jobs." - jafs

I agree that is one possible solution, but I am not sure if it is the best solution. Because (1) it would cost the state more money to pay everyone more, and we are having budget problems (2) legislators can recuse themselves if there is a potential conflict of interest; (3) at least this way we know up front who is receiving money from what company, rather than backroom deals (4) I prefer to have legislators who actually work for a living and aren't career politicians.

But as always, there is nothing wrong with good debate about how to improve our representative democracy. Thank you for the civil discussion without the personal attacks.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

Defender...

When did I engage in childish name calling, such as calling someone with which I disagree an "idiot?"

I simply said the Dems are playing politics, which is true in my opinion. How is that even close to calling someone an idiot for not agreeing with me?

jafs 4 years, 9 months ago

Satirical,

You're welcome - I am fed up with the bickering, partisan insults from both sides of the political spectrum as well.

Perhaps if politicians were required to recuse themselves, it might work better. The fact that they can but aren't required to do so leaves the decision in their hands.

Do you really think that we don't have backroom deals as well right now?

The point about living in the real world is valid, but I'm not sure how to fix that.

I still think that we must remove the influence of money if we want politicians who are actually doing what they're supposed to do. Disallow all monetary contributions - pay them a decent, but not exorbitant, salary - and punish any infraction of the rule with immediate impeachment.

Let those who are interested in lining their pockets work in the private sector.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

Defender... "But your partisan idiocy is showing for all to see. You're always totally and completely partisan in your opinions." - defender

First, when I first heard about this story when reading Mike Hoeflich's article, I was unaware whether O'Neal was an (R) or (D). And my opinion is the same.

Second, you still seem to want to engage in name calling without providing evidence or argument to support your statement. If I am an "idiot" or "always totally and completely partisan" then don't be a troll and have the courage to back-up your statement. Your refusal (see inability) to do so says more about you than it does me.

Third, it is the Dems, not me, playing politics this time. However, you likely wouldn't even consider condemning them for playing politics. So what would that make you...oh wait, a hypocrite for condemning me for what you have shown you are.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

Jafs… “The fact that they can but aren't required to do so leaves the decision in their hands.” - jafs

My guess is that the legislature has formal ways of requiring a legislator to recuse himself if they can demonstrate a clear conflict of interest. This is likely what these Dems are attempting to do with O'Neal. Additionally, even if the legislature can’t require a legislator to recuse himself, the court of public opinion can always hold that person politically accountable. Of course the latter is a retroactive means of enforcement.


“Do you really think that we don't have backroom deals as well right now?” - jafs

I didn’t mean to imply we don’t, but I think when we know who is employed by whom, it at least takes some possible conflicts off the table. Rather than everything being a possible conflict of interest.

“Let those who are interested in lining their pockets work in the private sector.” - jafs

I understand the argument, but I take some issue with this idea. First, I don’t think any government official should be paid a ridiculous amount, but I also don’t assume the best and the brightest are always altruistic and willing to forgo a comfortable life for themselves and their family the sake of the public good. How many lawyers would be public servants if they only made $35k a year and couldn’t get another job?

So, I think we would have to make the salary large enough to attract some of the best and brightest, but not so much as to make them willing to win at all costs to get (re-)elected. It’s a balance. But on the whole, I still like the system we have in place for Kansas.

Satirical 4 years, 9 months ago

Correction: "I also don’t assume the best and the brightest are always altruistic and willing to forgo a comfortable life for themselves and their family (for) the sake of the public good."

leedavid 4 years, 9 months ago

ivalueamerica (anonymous) says... Why does leedavid think a valid comparison is a corporate employee lawsuit.

The Speaker is an elected official suing the very body he is elected to, in essence, suing himself because he is also the defendant.

If you can not imagine how that is not a conflict of interest, I wonder about any thoughts you have.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I think you understand it by now, just making sure you do. O'Neal is not suing anyone. The legislature is not hearing the case a court is. O'Neal is not appearing before the court. As far as his clients go, unless O'Neal is acting as an agent on behalf of his clients in the legislature (which would be illegal) there is no conflict of interest.

ivalueamerica 4 years, 9 months ago

A lawyer sues someone on behalf of his client...therefore the Speaker is indeed suing himself..the legislature on behalf of his client.

like I said, all your comments are very suspect now with your zany notions.

notajayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

I'm guessing that O'Neal is billing by the hour on this one. I find it hard to believe he took this one on a contingency. In other words, win or lose he'll probably get paid the same, which technically means he has no financial stake in the outcome.


anon72 (anonymous) says...

"It is a conflict of interest when the second most powerful man in state government sues the state over a specific appropriation in the state budget on behalf of powerful special interest groups who have business before the legislature constantly. It would be different if he were suing the state on behalf of an individual over a Kansas law."

It would be different how, exactly? Oh, that's right - it's not the fact that he's representing a client that's suing the state that's the problem, it's who the client is that makes it wrong. This would be okay if he was representing one of the little people, but "powerful special interest groups" aren't entitled to the same legal representation, right?


jafs (anonymous) says...

"Is O'Neal going to recuse himself from all future votes that involve his clients?"

Is every legislator going to recuse themselves from every vote on every piece of legislation that might affect them personally? Not a lot's going to get done.


Defender (anonymous) says...

"But your partisan idiocy is showing for all to see. You're always totally and completely partisan in your opinions. You are unable to review both sides of an issue, because you have always made up your mind in advance. Your posts show it each and every single day."

And Defender takes the 'Pot-Kettle' award for 2010!


ivalueamerica (anonymous) says...

"A lawyer sues someone on behalf of his client...therefore the Speaker is indeed suing himself..the legislature on behalf of his client."

Is O'Neal's name on the header of the filings as a party to the suit, either as plaintiff or defendant?

ivalueamerica 4 years, 9 months ago

A lawyer sues someone on behalf of his client...therefore the Speaker is indeed suing himself..the legislature on behalf of his client.

like I said, all your comments are very suspect now with your zany notions.

jumpin_catfish 4 years, 9 months ago

Are you listening GOP, this is why I'm an independant. And all you conservatives stop making excuses for him, this is a conflict of interest. Period! Is there any wonder why Americans have lost confidence in their elected officials. But LJW perhaps one of your crack reporters should dig a little deeper and see if any demorat lawyerrepresentatives have done the same thing in the past. If I was a bettin' man.........

kugrad 4 years, 9 months ago

Satirical writes"What you suggest is that legislators who are lawyers cannot represent clients who might have a conflict of interest on past legislation (by definition not a conflict of interest); or can’t represent a client which may have an interest on future legislation. Or in other words you are saying lawyers can’t also be legislators in Kansas since many of their clients might have an interest in legislation. "

No, I am saying they have CURRENT business before the house, not just the affairs discussed in the lawsuit. Lawyers can certainly be legislators, but they need to recognize that 1) Being in the legislature is a full time job, so you should not be handling cases while you already have a full time job and 2) You should recuse yourself from either handling a case for a client with businsess before your chamber or abstain from votes affecting said clients when those votes come before you.

My point is, this is not merely partisan, it is about legitimate conflict of interest concerns. Lawyers should not both represent clients and vote on issues that affect them in the legislature. This is not only common sense, it is the essence of conflict of interest in practical terms. Legal definitions of conflict have no real bearing here as a) no one is suggesting what he is doing is illegal and b) the legislature is not a court. The definition of conflict of interest that applies is that commonly understood by a reasonable citizen. You can't serve two masters. It is an ethics breach.

notajayhawk 4 years, 9 months ago

Defender (anonymous) says...

"And notajayhawk wins the useless loser of the day award! See, I can play too, ma'am!"

Ooh, wow, great comeback, def. Your three-year-old helping out again today? What should we expect next - the "I'm rubber, you're glue" retort?

pace 4 years, 9 months ago

The man, and I use the expression loosely, should resign one of the positions. The entire state legislature and the Governor would be neglecting their duty if they didn't require him to resign one of them. He simply has no idea that his job is a duty not something he won. How much corruption are Kansans willing to take.

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